9 Tips to Help Create a Living Company Culture in a Virtual Workplace

As businesses around the world have gone virtual, digital tools have helped keep most aspects of our work life functioning. Many businesses are reporting increases in productivity, with activities like phone calls, email, and customer relationship management skyrocketing since their physical workplaces shut down.

However, there is one area that can be tough to replicate virtually: culture. Nine leaders from the Alternative Board share their tips for preserving and creating culture when your operations are all digital.

1. Embrace Innovation

Innovative is a word often used to describe the culture of a company, and it can be brought to your virtual culture as well. Be innovative in how you’re holding your online meetings. Try to do your next 30-minute online meeting while standing. Standing has been shown to make us faster in our reactions and more awake. Or, dedicate your first 5-10 minutes to small talk on a specific topic, like favourite books. You could also do some desk exercises half-way through the meeting to help keep everyone fresh and connected. Whatever it is: be innovative.

We are less creative when we fall into a routine. At the moment, work-life is everything but routine, so it is a great time to be creative and innovative.

Alfredo Puche, President at The Alternative Board – Nelson, Marlborough & Tasman New Zealand

2. Be Present

An essential aspect of creating a culture in a virtual world is to stop “multitasking.” When you are on a virtual video call, and you are trying to flip back and forth between your email and other open applications, this is exhausting for you. This creates a higher propensity for Zoom burnout, and it is also really distracting for others on the “call.” Be present in the moment and focus fully on the conversation that is taking place. This also creates higher energy, possibly shorter meetings, and you won’t have Zoom fatigue.

Part of a virtual culture will mean modifying some of your current cultural behaviours. And yes, for those of us who are “multi-taskers” this may be a challenge but we will be better off for it.

Blair Koch, Owner at The Alternative Board Denver West

3. Survey Your Team

It is hard enough creating a great culture in the “real world”. It is going to be even harder doing so in the “virtual world”. Moreover, the companies that had a poor, unestablished culture in the real world will see the negative results more clearly now that we have been forced to go virtual.

The key is to be proactive. Start by doing an anonymous survey of your employees to find out what they think the culture is currently and what they would like it to be. Once you have summarised the results, compare them to what you would like your culture to encompass. From there on, take it upon yourself to communicate, communicate, communicate. Make sure you are walking the talk yourself.

Doug Kerr, President at the Alternative Board Etobicoke/Mississauga

4. Schedule Dedicated Social Time

One of our clients has a culture in which they enjoy being with each other and having fun conversations during the workday. Since the shift to remote work, the owner has shared that productivity has remained the same or even improved. However, the team reports that they are missing having fun at work. She is concerned about burnout and a drift towards less collaboration and innovation. To solve it, she now dedicates an hour per week during work time for her team to socialise via Zoom. She sends a fun, non-work topic in advance of that hour that they will discuss. She is finding that having this ‘social hour’ during the workday has brought back the fun and she is seeing an increase in collaboration and innovation that is so important to her business.

Steve Drury, President at The Alternative Board – Denver DTC and Colorado Springs

5. Use Visual Cues to Access “Work Mode”

Working from home means being separated from the visual cues of your normal workplace and culture. Ask your colleagues to share what, if any cues they’re using at home to make them switch from “home” to “work mode.” Encouraging your colleagues to use a cue in their home desk environment may help them focus on their work tasks. For example, utilising company stationery with your company’s logo could be the visual cue they need. That framed photo of your boss may be a bit too creepy, though.

Ivan Carlse, Owner at The Alternative Board Sunshine Coast South

6. Communication is Key

The number one thing to do to keep your culture intact, even while operating remotely, is to over-communicate. If you don’t, people will feel that they are missing out. One trick for engagement is to set up contests or competitions each week. They can be work-related or just fun. This will replace some of the water cooler interaction and keep your teams talking.

Kenneth Frawley, CEO at The Alternative Board – Brooklyn and Queens

7. Revisit Your Values

Communication is the basis of creating a living culture in your company, whether virtually or not. How do you start that communication? Creating a set of values can harness the direction your culture takes. Once employees understand company values, they can begin to see themselves in those values and the culture of your company.

Jackie Gernaey, Owner of The Alternative Board Suffolk-Long Island

8. Adapt Your Company’s Values to the New Reality

We can’t ignore the impact that virtuality is having in the way in which a company thinks, converses, and behaves, in other words, its culture. In this new scenario, the role of the leader as a culture builder and promoter becomes key, especially in these convoluted times. If you are such a leader, gather your exec team and develop a “core values manifesto” that is congruent and current with the virtual reality that companies are now experiencing. Let’s say that one of the core values of your company is “integrity,” then the question is, what does integrity specifically means for your company? This must include the new virtual interactions happening not only among your employees but with all the stakeholders of the organisation. This updated definition of integrity also needs to be translated into what specific actions are congruent with it or not, so that you can create understanding and alignment. Once you have developed your culture manifesto, over-communicate it, beginning with a speech to the entire company that is clear, concise, and engaging.

Carlos Martinez Moreira, Director Owner at TAB Mexico North

9. Create a Committee

If you already have a distinct culture, take a closer look, and decide if it is still relevant to a virtual workforce. You may need to tweak the language or add another cultural value. Most importantly, culture is something that is created by your employees. Raise the problem you are seeing and ask your team for volunteers to be part of a culture committee. Their objective is to find ways to make the culture live and breathe in a virtual environment. A simple example could be if “Fun” is part of your culture; how can fun be injected into all interactions held virtually. Ideas could range from a funny hat theme at a team meeting or virtual lunches.

Jodie Shaw, Chief Marketing Officer for The Alternative Board